Monday, September 19, 2011

Please Pass the Biscuits!

Song Pairing:
I Love You Always Forever by Donna Lewis
I feel kind of bad telling you how to eat your food, but to get the most out of the pairing, just try this!  Take your nice, hot biscuit and get it all buttered up.  Add some honey or jam or whatever and push the play button.  As Donna starts singing to you in that breathy kind of voice about "standing in a timeless dream" and how she's "lost in a deep cloud of heavenly scent, touching, discovering you" - that's when you take your first big bite.  BIG bite!  The butter is everywhere and you close your eyes because you just have to.  Chew a little.  Then when the beat kicks in, start your happy dance.  You know you want to!  If your'e a little shy, just go ahead with the head bop for now because by the time you've gotten to the second or third repeat of the chorus, you'll be ready for reckless abandon!  Kitchen dancing!  It's the best!  Grab whoever is around and have them join you!  Postman, meter reader - give them a biscuit and share the joy!

The title of today's post is probably the most repeated request at my childhood dinner table.  And for good reason!

Just look at that picture!  Before you sits one of life's true blessings.  It's in the Top Ten list of my comfort foods - probably even the top five, and is most definitely on my "last meal" menu.  Does anyone else do this or am I just a little morbid and dark sometimes?  You know- if you knew when your last meal was going to be before you left this existence - say, if you had been really naughty and were on death row or something.  Not that I'm contemplating doing anything!  It's just that when I see this in the movies, it has caused me to reflect and try to put together what my last meal would be - and these biscuits would be part of that meal!

Growing up we ate plenty of biscuits - and I say this with a most joyful heart because my mother just happens to be the best biscuit maker in the world.  Hands down.  No arguing allowed.  My absolute earliest memories of her in the kitchen are those of her making these clouds of utter satisfaction.  Always being of short stature, my eyes could barely clear the top of the kitchen table, even on tippy toes.  But I would always watch with fascination and anticipation.

However, in all my 18 years of living at home with my parents, I was never once relegated the task of making the biscuits.  I was the chopper, the stirrer, the boiler, the table setter, the dish washer, the corn husker, etc.  You get the idea.  But I was never the biscuit maker.

So when I left home and got married I discovered I was clueless as to how to reproduce these delicious biscuits!  It was a long distance call to home and expensive, definitely out of a newlywed's budget, so I had to wait until I returned home for a visit a year later to try to get the recipe from my mom.

Ok - so you know those people who don't cook with recipes?  I found out that my mom does a lot of this cooking without recipes business - and the biscuits were one of those.  I guess she had a recipe at one time - she just had kind of memorized it and adapted it as the years went along.  So getting the recipe went something like this:

(Sitting at the kitchen table while watching the process)
Me:  So how much flour did you just put into the bowl?
Mom:  Oh, I don't know.  I'd guess about a cup or cup and a half.  No probably more like two.  I just put it in until it looks right in the bowl.
Me:  (trying to not roll my eyes - my mother HATES it when I roll my eyes) Ok - let's say two cups.  Wait!  Was that baking soda or baking powder you just put in?
Mom:  (emphatically) Baking powder!  You want baking powder for these - NOT baking soda! (I'm pretty sure she just rolled her eyes at me!)
Me:  Ok - I'll be sure to get that right.  So how much was that?
Mom:  A small handful.
Me:  Which would be.....
Mom:  I'd say a little more than a tablespoon.
Me:  We'll call it 4 teaspoons.

This goes on and I come away with a recipe that she looks over and agrees that it "could work."  Oy.

She is much more informative, though, when it comes to the proper technique in putting it all together.  She tells me not to add more flour although "you're going to want to because it's wet and sticky!  But, don't!"  I am admonished to handle the dough delicately and to gently pat it into a circle on a lightly floured surface, but keep the dough lofty and high.  "Cut them nice and high!  Don't pat the dough down too much!"  She takes our old round cutter and cuts one out, showing me just how fluffy and airy the dough is.  She gently places it in the pan and continues to cut them out, re-rolling the scraps, but the whole time acting as if she had a feather in her hand.  I feel like I'm ready to go home and tackle them.

I do and they eventually become a success - after a few tries and getting the "handling" technique down.  I have a strong "anti-raggy" dough complex that I have to fight, even today.  I just like everything to look nice along the whole process.  This is not always conducive to great breads.  Sometimes you have to wait for the pretty at the end!  Which is really when it counts anyway, right?

Ok - you're turn!

So we're going to start with these humble and simple ingredients:

and we're going to make biscuits!

You'll mix the dry ingredients together well before you add the chunks of cold, cold, cold butter.  Mix those dry ingredients really well so you don't get uneven spots of baking powder.  Yuck!  And you're not going to be handling it much after you start introducing the wet stuff so make sure it's whisked really well, or sift it if you like.  Then, using your hands, add the really cold butter chunks, and start squishing it with your fingers, working it into the flour mixture until only clumps about the size of marbles remain.

Work quickly because you don't want the butter to get too warm.  Mix the egg and the buttermilk, beating with a fork to break up the egg and get a good combination with the liquid.  Add the buttermilk mixture to the bowl and, with a large spoon, stir just until it comes together.  You will have a raggy looking dough.  Turn it out onto a floured surface.

See - I told you - it's not pretty yet.  Resist the urge to make it so!  All you do is give it a few folds to bring it together a little more.  It'll look like this:
At this point you will wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator (if you have the time) or freezer (if you only have about an hour.)  Let it get nice and chilled.

When it's time to bake, preheat your oven to 425.  You want a very hot oven to kick these guys off to a nice start.  Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface.  Gently press down until dough is about 1" thick.  Use a 2 1/2" round cutter, or whatever your preference, and cut them high and fluffy!  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  I like to brush the tops with heavy cream to help them get that lovely golden glow.

If they are ready before your oven is, put the biscuits back in the freezer or fridge to keep chilled until your oven is to temperature.

Bake for 10 minutes - turn the pan - bake another 7 minutes.

My recipe is almost the same as my mother's.  I just use butter where she uses shortening and buttermilk where she uses regular milk, although I'm sure she used buttermilk from time to time as well, if that's what she had on hand.

Here's the breakdown of the ingredients:

Printable Recipe Card
2 c. flour (270 g)
4 t. baking powder (20 g)
1 T. sugar (15 g)
1/2 t. salt (3 g)
1 egg
1/2 c. butter (113.5 g)
2/3 c. buttermilk (146 g)

1 comment:

  1. How is it that I've never made these biscuits? I really need to...soon!